Geoffrey walks into the bar on 14th Street and spots Charles Kringas right away. Kringas is nursing a glass of fruit juice with a ridiculous paper parasol in it. He looks just as nervous and awkward off-camera as he does in TV interviews – Geoffrey’s seen a surprising number of those over the last few weeks, including the notorious live broadcast that ended Kringas’s partnership with Franklin Shepard. When Ellen said he had to prepare for this meeting, Sophie and Paul brought in their friend Megan, the erstwhile star of East Hastings, so keen to help she was practically falling over herself. Right now Geoffrey could probably write a thesis on Kringas’s post-Shepard years, the Pulitzer Prize for his play Pretty Politics, and all the musicals he’d written after that with his second composer, Oliver Guy.
Just what Geoffrey doesn’t need, a meeting about musical theatre. But Ellen’s set on doing Kringas and Guy’s Good and Crazy People. Geoffrey said even the show’s name gave him hives, and why couldn’t they do Pretty Politics instead? Ellen said that nobody would cross the street to see Théâtre Sans Argent do 1970s agitprop, Pulitzer or no Pulitzer, sorry Geoffrey but you know I’m right. He did, and she was, as usual. The last couple of years, since she started directing, she’s got a lot more involved in shaping the artistic vision of the company. It’s been good for them both, in ways he never imagined.
“Hi,” Geoffrey says, with what he hopes is a winning smile. (Kringas’s expression suggests it’s closer to Back Away, Danger Incoming.) “Geoffrey Tennant. We spoke on the phone.”
Kringas looks fractionally less hunted. “Oh, hi.”
“Can I get you another drink?”
Kringas accepts, somewhat dubiously. It’s only pineapple juice, for fuck’s sake. Geoffrey gets a red wine for himself; he’s going to need it.
“Tell me more about your theatre company,” Kringas says, once he’s apparently decided Geoffrey’s not trying to poison him.
“We’ve been going five years,” Geoffrey says, “and the name’s less true than it used to be. We got a grant from the government last year.”
That was Anna’s doing, though of course it came with strings attached: in this case, a partnership with the local youth music theatre. Geoffrey wanted to tell the Minister to go to hell, but Anna and Ellen talked him down, and it actually wasn’t as bad as he expected. There are worse shows than Candide, and the kids were more fun to work with than a lot of actors Geoffrey’s had the displeasure of directing. Still, he’s glad it’s Ellen and not him who’ll direct this one, if Kringas and Guy agree to it. She should have been doing this meeting instead of him, but they extended the run of Antony and Cleopatra. She must be half way through Act One right now. God, he wishes he was there instead of here.
He tells Kringas about the grant and the partnership, leaving out the bit where he said he’d rather stab himself with a rusty prop sword than direct musical theatre. Théâtre Sans Argent is doing a musical every year now, and Good and Crazy People would be a great fit for the 2013 season.
“New Burbage butchered that show,” Kringas says, glaring into his pineapple juice.
Geoffrey feels a sharp pang of sympathy for him. No wonder he’s suspicious of Canadians.
“Darren Nichols?” Geoffrey says, like he even has to ask.
“Richard Smith-Jones and Darren Nichols,” Kringas spits. “They turned the whole thing into a giant game of chess, with all the characters in cages so they couldn’t touch. Said it was a metaphor for the In and Out scandal.”
Typical of Richard to re-use the scrapped costumes from Darren’s Romeo and Juliet. Geoffrey’s only surprised to hear the production didn’t have horses. Or lasers.
“Darren Nichols is an idiot!” Geoffrey says. “And Richard couldn’t direct his way out of a paper bag. All he cares about is the sales figures from the fucking gift shop. ”
Kringas perks up visibly. Christ, did he really think Geoffrey was friends with those assholes? Their tenure at New Burbage made the worst of Oliver Welles’ declining years look like a golden age.
“Oliver!” Kringas says.
Geoffrey nearly jumps out of his skin. He turns around in disbelief – and sees a tall, thin man carrying a music-case.
“Sorry I’m late,” the man says. “Power outage on the subway.”
Geoffrey stares at him, speechless. He’s more shaken than he wants to admit even to himself. He knew Oliver Guy was probably going to be here, and yet he still expected to see that familiar figure in his cream-coloured suit. The ghost Geoffrey hasn’t seen in five years.
He needs to say something, not just sit here with his mouth open, but he’s frozen.
“Oliver,” Kringas says, “can you get us another drink?”
It’s kind of him, giving Geoffrey time to compose himself. Kringas seems more relaxed now, as if Geoffrey’s meltdown somehow makes him feel better. More in control.
“Here you are,” Oliver Guy says, returning with the drinks. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr Tennant.”
“Geoffrey, please,” Geoffrey says. The man must be a decade older than him.
“Geoffrey,” Guy says, and smiles at him.
It’s a nice smile. Geoffrey smiles back, feeling some of the tension ebb away.
“I saw your Candide,” Guy says. “It was great. I’d love to hear what you’ve got in mind for our show.”
Hallelujah, Geoffrey thinks. Maybe they can actually pull this thing off. He takes a deep breath, feels his back, and prepares to talk them through Ellen’s vision for a genderswapped production of Good and Crazy People.
“Hey,” Geoffrey says. “Are you awake?”
Ellen yawns. “Well, obviously I am now, Geoffrey. But yes, I’m awake.”
He imagines her lying in bed, their bed. The warm familiar scent of her skin, her hair soft against his face.
“Miss you,” he says.
“So, did he say yes?” Ellen demands. “I mean, I miss you too, sorry, but – how did it go?”
“Kringas is a little wary, but I think he’s coming round. And Oliver Guy seems like he wants us to do the show. He saw Candide. Oh, and he hates Darren Nichols, they both do, so that was a good start.”
“Good,” she says drowsily, “that’s good, Geoffrey.”
Should he tell her about the other thing? Once he’d have been afraid to, but it’s been so many years now…
“When he came in,” Geoffrey says. His throat is tight. “Oliver Guy. I had my back to the door, and Kringas said ‘Oliver’ –”
There’s a pause, and then she sighs. “Oh, Geoffrey.”
“I know. It’s ridiculous, right?”
“You miss him. I miss him too, Geoffrey.”
It’s not that simple, but he lets it pass. Swallows down the mixture of hope and dread, tenderness and anger, that rises in him again now, thinking about that moment in the bar.
“Kiss me goodnight?” he says instead.
“Mmm, yes. Goodnight, Geoffrey. Love you.”
“Love you too. Goodnight, Ellen.”
He lies awake for an hour, listening to the sounds of the city at night. If he gets up early, he should be home in time for the matinee.